Monday, January 09, 2006
The Real Crocodile Hunter
The real crocodile hunter is not an Australian egomaniac, and he hunts alligators (nuisance ones), not crocs. He is in his 70's, solid as a rock, and soft spoken. If you ask him about alligators, he will open up and tell amazing tales of a life lived in pursuit of gators. As he talks, his respect and admiration for his lifelong adversary becomes evident.
His name is Rufus. He is my dad's childhood friend. They are funny when they get together and the years melt away as they tell tales. One story that always pops up is the night my Dad and Rufus were walking train tracks at night with a few friends. All at once they were set upon by older boys who outnumbered them. Dad's group scattered, but my dad was handicapped by his polio leg and when Rufus realized that Dad was still in the midst of the dust up, he came back for him swinging. They both managed to survive the incident...lucky me.
About a year ago, Jr., his best buddy T., and Katie and I went out to visit Rufus. He lives out in the woods on a few acres. When we got there, he led us out to two trailers filled with gator heads in various states of the taxidermy process. The first trailer was dark, dank, and completely lined with gator heads, large and small, shelf after shelf. Rufus, who says he is retired with a wink and a smile, is a licensed Alligator Trapper. He is the guy the state wardens call when a gator is pronounced a nuisance. Nuisance gators are usually "produced" by humans feeding them, but sometimes it's simply a dangerously huge gator with no fear of humans.
Rufus explained how he would put out baited (cow lungs) hooks on jug floatlines...essentially fishing for the gator. When hooked, the gator is pulled to the boat, dispatched and then hauled aboard.Of course, it does not go as smoothly as that last sentence implies. Combine a small boat, dark of night, and a large angry gator and you have the makings of a Nantucket sleigh ride...Florida style. Slip out of the boat and you could find yourself wrapped in the rope with a spinning gator underwater in pitch blackness. It's dark, dangerous work. Back at his house, the gator is expertly skinned and butchered in a small, spotless packing shed. The hides and meat are then sold. If you're wondering...gator tastes a little like fishy chicken (to me). Not my favorite, but lots of folks like it.
After the yard tour, Rufus and his wife invited us inside to their comfortable living room. We sat spell-bound as he showed us his hand with the missing thumb and told us the story of the gator that took it off in a split second snap.
I couldn't help but ask, "What ever happened to that gator...did it get away?"
He motioned to a gator head on the fireplace hearth, "That's him right there."
Posted by R.Powers at 7:32 PM